In the first three posts in this series, I described seven thought patterns that cause individual planners to think in ways that lead to plans with inherent weaknesses. These phenomena influence planners even when planners have enough time and resources to execute the planning exercise. They include widely held but inapplicable beliefs, several cognitive biases, and several organizational influences. But for plans devised by teams, there are additional effects that cause trouble as well. These phenomena are related to how teams think collectively. Let's begin with Group Polarization and Trips to Abilene.
- Group polarization
- Group polarization is the tendency of groups to adopt positions more extreme than any of their members would adopt if acting individually. When group members learn that their own more radical inclinations are shared by other group members, they tend to assess those inclinations as validated. This experience propagates through the group, in an emergent fashion, each member influencing the others, until the more radical position is firmly held by all. Members then feel comfortable abandoning any remaining reluctance or doubt.
- Planning teams are susceptible to group polarization. For example, when assessing risks for particular options, they must make judgments as a group. Judging a risk as high or low can determine whether or not they adopt a particular plan option. Other vulnerable judgments include vendor selection, staff assignments, effort estimates — almost anything the team must decide.
- Secret ballots provide one approach to mitigating group polarization. But the safety secret ballots provide is limited, because the team must necessarily engage in open discussion. For protection in open discussion, the team can appoint a "Curmudgeon Team" to oppose radical positions as they appear. Read about curmudgeon teams.
- Trips to Abilene
- In an insightful work, The Abilene Paradox, Jerry Harvey describes how a group can commit to a course that no group member favors. [Harvey 1988] When a group takes a "trip to Abilene," nobody feels that the group is behaving sensibly. Because they all feel that everyone else favors the group's choice, no one questions it openly. The group then takes action that no member agrees with.
- Planning teams, like all teams, are susceptible to the Abilene Paradox. They are especially susceptible when one of the team members is much more influential or powerful than the others. For the moment, call that person Gandalf. If Gandalf makes an off-hand comment that others interpret as a statement of preference, they might express support for it. And in an analogy to Group Polarization, the entire group might adopt Gandalf's idea enthusiastically, even though no one is enthusiastic about it. But unlike Group Polarization, the idea might not be radical. In some sense a trip to Abilene can be the "meh" form of Group Polarization.
- To a Group polarization and trips
to Abilene are examples of
emergent group behavior that
can lead to unworkable planslimited extent, groups can inoculate themselves against trips to Abilene by learning about the phenomenon and then adopting an intervention protocol consisting of three steps: noticing your own doubts, inquiring when you're uneasy, and checking for the Abilene itinerary. Read more about trips to Abilene.
- Three other emergent phenomena that lead groups astray are False Consensus, Groupthink, and Shared Information Bias. We'll explore how they can affect planners next time. Next in this series
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Cognitive Biases at Work:
- Managing Hindsight Bias Risk
- Performance appraisal practices and project retrospectives both rely on evaluating performance after
outcomes are known. Unfortunately, a well-known bias — hindsight bias — can limit the effectiveness
of many organizational processes, including both performance appraisal and project retrospectives.
- How Messages Get Mixed
- Although most authors of mixed messages don't intend to be confusing, message mixing does happen. One
of the most fascinating mixing mechanisms occurs in the mind of the recipient of the message.
- Bullet Point Madness: II
- Decision makers in many organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of a series of bullet points
or a series of series of bullet points. Briefers who combine this format with a variety of persuasion
techniques can mislead decision makers, guiding them into making poor decisions.
- Be Choosier About Job Offers: I
- A serious error some job seekers make is accepting an offer that isn't actually a good fit. We make
this mistake for a variety of reasons, including hating the job-search process, desperation, and wishful
thinking. How can we avoid the error?
- Mental Accounting and Technical Debt
- In many organizations, technical debt has resisted efforts to control it. We've made important technical
advances, but full control might require applying some results of the behavioral economics community,
including a concept they call mental accounting.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 28: Checklists: Conventional or Auditable
- Checklists help us remember the steps of complex procedures, and the order in which we must execute them. The simplest form is the conventional checklist. But when we need a record of what we've done, we need an auditable checklist. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
- And on March 6: Six More Insights About Workplace Bullying
- Some of the lore about dealing with bullies at work isn't just wrong — it's harmful. It's harmful in the sense that applying it intensifies the bullying. Here are six insights that might help when devising strategies for dealing with bullies at work. Example: Letting yourself be bullied is not a thing. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info